Moldy pie! Yum!

Blueberry to be exact. Just sitting there inside a glass cube atop a white pedestal, going uneaten – and unloved – beneath the Carnegie Art Museum’s overhead lights and in the joyless shadows of other, though decidedly less Minimalist works of contemporary art. Can’t recall the artist’s name. (Pillsbury? Crocker?) Seems like centuries ago now. The piece was already profoundly degraded when I came across it, some time in the late 1990s, when hucksterism in contemporary art was de rigeur. A handful of the era’s causeless rebels sooner or later surpassed their shtick: Damien Hirst, Tom Friedman, Karin Sander. The rest, though, like maybe the moldy-pie maker, evidently got shtuck in ruts, claiming space no one could see and cracking jokes no one could hear, all undoubtedly in an existentially charged, furious desire to call into question everything. Life, love, art, baked goods – you name it. The moldy-pie maker and his friends wanted answers, man!

Or maybe they just wanted their pictures in the paper. In any case, here’s what we do know: While the remains of perfectly good pies that do not eventually find our bellies usually end up either in the garbage or in doggie bowls, Mr. Moldy-Pie Maker’s confection – all of it – sat in a vaunted Pittsburgh museum for God knows how long. Probably months. Another factoid (or maybe an assumpt-oid): Throughout his life, Mr. Moldy-Pie Maker sacrificed a lot – time, money, love, food – to get himself in a position to even serve The Man, who in all likelihood just wanted a nice painting, not stale dessert. In other words, anybody can whip up a blueberry pie and let it rot. But only an artiste can whip up a blueberry pie, exhibit it in a major American art museum, and then let it rot.

(SMTX)FTW-300x250-NOV17 Utter also shares with Kandinsky, de Kooning, Motherwell, and some of his other contemporaries a preternaturally discerning eye for color. Always tempered but never dull, Utter’s magical blends of blues, grays, browns, and oranges resemble hues found in nature but are unlike anything you’ve probably ever seen. All of Utter’s entries are small, as are most of Intimate Modernism’s strongest pieces, which is surprising, considering that Modernism was all about huge canvases and personalities. Tablet-sized etchings, a favored medium among the Fort Worth Circle, do more than most of the show’s bigger entries to emphasize the group’s cred. The standout etcher here is Fearing, whose frenetic and lovingly detailed tableaux of mythological creatures and mises en scene transcend their humble scale while delighting in it. Looking at them, you might get the sense that they wouldn’t have worked any other way: larger, smaller, or any other size in between. Basically, they’re perfect.

Because the Circlers were well aware of the world outside, the curators have striven to meet our enlightened cultural perspective half-way. They endeavor to soothe any qualms we may have rather than dismiss us as lefty crybabies. Emily Guthrie Smith’s “The Halloween Party” (1943) lives up to its title, depicting revelers in various costumes, including a man in blackface. In the accompanying label, the curators elegantly note, “Blackface was a popular American performance tradition now discredited as a perpetuation of a racist stereotype.” For Dickson Reeder’s “Conversation Piece,” a portrait of an African-American girl and the painter’s young white son, the label’s author points out, “The young girl seems to be integral to the Reeder family – her figure is the more highly finished and sensitively rendered of the two – but the painting leaves intriguing conceptual questions about the nature of childhood friendships during a period of severe racial prejudice.” Reeder was the man in blackface in Smith’s painting.

This Saturday, Fort Worth historian Quentin McGown will discuss Utter’s Fort Worth Landmarks Suite, a collection of 16 watercolors commissioned in the late ’50s by local preservationist Sam Cantey III. On view through June 15 in a separate exhibition, Landmark Suite, according to the Amon Carter, documents 1950s-Fort Worth’s “rapidly disappearing” early architecture. The series, we could also declare, shaped 2008-Fort Worth’s rapidly appearing new architecture. The people designing and erecting the buildings here, in a city whose landscape has been primed to embrace Progress by artists, writers, musicians, dancers, actors – essentially, by every creative capitalist in town – are the people who have been influenced by the people who have been influenced by the Fort Worth Circle. And their names will be around long after their bodies vanish like so much pipin’-hot pie.

Intimate Modernism: Fort Worth Circle Artists in the 1940s
Thru May 11 at 3501 Camp Bowie Blvd, FW. Free.